Debra Green, OBE, is founder and National Director of Redeeming Our Communities (ROC), a UK-wide Christian charity based in Manchester aiming to bring about community transformation by creating partnerships to foster crime reduction and community cohesion. Debra attends Ivy Church where she was part of the leadership team for 17 years until recently stepping down in order to focus on ROC. Debra is married to Frank and they have four children. She talks to Paul Veitch from the Jesus Fellowship.
WHAT do you think is the most effective leadership model for churches? What part have women to play in this?
I think the most effective leadership model is a combination of both men and women working together in a team, each using their complimentary gifts. Women can sometimes spot things men don’t spot; we can be ‘tuned in’ to situations both pastorally, prophetically or in terms of hospitality. Such a model is very biblical. It’s about us all using our gifts to the full.
It can be very off-putting for non-Christians when they encounter an outmoded model: an all-male leadership in the church. Half of society is female, after all. The church has been lagging behind the world in terms of women taking on leadership roles; instead, I believe it should be at the forefront.
Men have had more opportunities in terms of leadership in the past and more readily think of themselves as the natural leaders. Not all men, however, are called to be leaders; neither are women. Women probably find leadership harder because of our history. Leadership is a God-given gift.
Stereotyping doesn’t always work! For example, we have a couple in our church: the husband is the intuitive one and the wife is the logical one – the reverse of what we often expect.
I was the first female elder in our church. It became obvious I was a leader by gifting. I was very fearful as I didn’t know if I would be well received; not everyone agreed with me having this role. Now, 17 year later, there are lots of women in leadership in our church – and, of course, in the world outside. I have two daughters – I am very passionate about them not remaining in the same place as I was when I first became a Christian in terms of gender roles.
Have you known prejudice as a female leader?
Quite a lot, especially in the early years when I became a leader. There are lots of churches in the area I live in whose theology doesn’t allow women to move in leadership. We were involved in the Unity Movement. It was difficult. What was important? Was it unity? Was it giving space for women in leadership?
I have experienced prejudice. I try to deal with it in as gracious way as possible. We can’t agree on everything but we have to respect people of other views. Jesus was not always received; He had to deal with rejection. We have to deal with rejection and ask Him for grace.
How can men in leadership avoid being macho and harsh and women in leadership avoid being bossy and overbearing?
That’s a difficult question! We have to learn from one another.
Character is more important than gifts. Gifted people we meet are not always as Christ-like as they should be. Good character is displayed in the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) and is different from giftedness. Some can have a strong leadership gift but lack humility and self-control; this is very off-putting. As a leader, I would always want to think about how I can love and serve others. Leadership for me must be servant leadership.
It is good to recognise women who have been serving and now affirm them as leaders. We then have to give them opportunity.
How can we build a solid team of men and women leaders?
I can give an example from our own church. There are not many opportunities on Sunday mornings for leadership when we all meet together so we decided to give opportunity for both men and women, young as well as middle-aged, to lead within medium-size settings, in our home group clusters. We targeted people with leadership gifts (and little experience) and threw them in at the deep end. Some did well, some struggled; their emerging gifts needed drawing out; we had to draw alongside people, encourage them and give feedback.
Have you any advice to give women?
Have the courage to step up! For me this has included preaching, leading services and distributing communion. Have the courage to step up to be the first to pioneer something new. I did – I wanted to be an inspiration. You challenge the prevailing culture, this takes time and we have to be patient, godly and always relying on the Holy Spirit. Be prayerful before the Lord, make yourself available and let Him empower you.
And men, let women do these things in their way – and don’t inhibit their creativity.
Joel, the Old Testament prophet, covers both gender and age in his prophecy:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28 – 29)
Joel speaks of the empowerment that comes from God, the Holy Spirit, and the fact that God chooses whom He empowers. We, however, have to put that empowerment into good use. It’s all about His kingdom, it’s all for Christ.